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The Short Version: Couples are always looking for fun dates, whether it’s their first time out together or they’ve been married for years. That often means driving — or ridesharing — between restaurants, bars, and nightlife options. But that’s not the case in downtown Tampa, Florida. The thriving area offers couples walkable neighborhoods, arts and culture, nightlife, and plenty of parks to explore together. Best of all, downtown Tampa has many places to shop, dine, and grab a drink.
Tampa, Florida, has blossomed in recent years thanks to its location on the picturesque Gulf Coast of the Sunshine State. It has a dedicated community that supports its downtown, and the waterfront spot features museums, restaurants, shops, and entertainment venues.
Date nights can often be challenging to plan, especially with so many options requiring a drive from one place to the next. But that’s not the case in Tampa, thanks to the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
Ashly Anderson, Director of Marketing for Tampa’s Downtown Partnership, said the area is easy to enjoy for couples of all ages — and their families, too.
“Tampa’s downtown is a thriving 24-hour urban district with waterfront and Tampa Riverwalk at its heart,” she said. “The Tampa Riverwalk affords visitors 2.5 miles of waterfront walkway, connecting unique cultural assets, public parks, a hip food scene, and championship-winning sports team venues.”
Tampa is about an hour and a half southwest of Orlando and just a bridge over the Tampa Bay away from St. Petersburg, Florida. Yet the area has an entirely different feel, thanks in part to the unique mix of Cuban, Italian, and Spanish origins. The town is friendly and fun, with spectacular views seemingly made for hand-in-hand strolls on date night.
Investors have recently poured billions of dollars into the Tampa scene, meaning it has a bright future. And couples can expect to find new opportunities to make memories around every corner, Ashly said.
“The vibe is uniquely Tampa,” Ashly told us.
According to Ashly, there are many iconic restaurants in downtown Tampa where everyone should eat at least once. The Tampa Riverwalk offers two excellent date-night spots.
First, Ashly recommends Ulele, a native Florida-inspired restaurant where it’s a good idea to make reservations. Pronounced you-lay-lee, the restaurant is named after a Native American princess who once lived in the state. It prides itself on offering a fusion of ingredients prepared on a barbacoa grill 10 feet in diameter.
The Columbia Café is another popular date spot located on the waterfront. It is the sister location to the oldest restaurant in Florida, located in Tampa’s historic Ybor City area. This romantic location offers outdoor seating and a friendly staff ready to help couples choose from items on its extensive Spanish-inspired menu. Couples can even sail up to the location and tie their boat at one of the restaurant’s eight docking slips.
And those aren’t the only waterfront options Ashly recommends for dinner.
“Two unique food hall experiences are at either end of the Riverwalk, Armature Works and Sparkman Wharf. Both offer a variety of local foodie spots, craft beer and cocktails, and large outdoor dining areas,” she said.
The original Mise en Place, located inside downtown, is another popular option. It offers complimentary parking inside the Altis Parking Garage. Nearby, Cena, located in the Grand Central building in the Channel District, features modern, award-winning Italian fare. It’s famous for, among other things, Executive Chef Michael Buttacavoli’s winning meatballs that were even better than those made by the Food Network’s Chef Bobby Flay in a recent competition.
Once dinner reservations are taken care of, the next step to planning a romantic date in downtown Tampa is to get out on the water. Ashly said it’s a perfect place for enjoying the company of that special someone — or even popping the big question.
“There are several for charter boats, dinner cruises, or the Pirate Water Taxi,” she said. “Visitors can captain their own romantic date by renting a boat for a sunset cruise up the Hillsborough River.”
Those who rent a boat for the evening can create the intimacy and ambiance they want on a date. Couples can bring their own food, drinks, and music. Of course, there’s no reason to limit it to two people, as double dates and family outings are fun, too.
Couples can plan to meet up with friends during downtown Tampa’s Fourth Friday events. This monthly arts and culture crawl has plenty of live music and programs throughout the area from 5 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. The events are free and open to the public. They include admission to the Henry Plant Museum, the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Sparkman Wharf, The Straz Center, and the Sail Pavilion, among others.
Visitors can also buy a vendor-approved cup to Sip and Stroll, a legal way to enjoy alcoholic beverages along the Riverwalk.
Tampa’s downtown also has other fun events planned throughout the year. Another great date idea is the Mayor’s Food Truck Fiesta, which takes place on the first Wednesday of every month from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Square at Lykes Gaslight Park.
Ashly said one of the most exciting things about downtown Tampa is that it’s always changing. That means couples can expect to find surprises whenever they stroll the area.
“Tampa’s future is bright, and the downtown is on a meteoric rise with billions of dollars of investment and development,” she said.
Much of that change is happening along Water Street Tampa, located at the south end of downtown near the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Amalie Arena. The latest project is a $3 billion wellness district featuring new luxury residences, commercial spaces, restaurants, and retail shops. The area also includes a five-star Edition hotel.
Couples who want to see it all can check out City Bike Tampa, which offers bicycle rentals to explore the area without having to worry about where to park the car. The shop offers many different bike models, so visitors can be comfortable while riding in style.
Shopping enthusiasts should also bring an extra bag when they visit all of the retailers downtown. The Tampa Downtown Partnership has a list of the shops and locations on its website to make it easier for couples to find what they’re looking for. The area even has a few flower stores that are worth visiting to make any date extra romantic.
And when the sun sets, there’s even more to do downtown. It offers many bars and nightclubs that can keep the date going well into the night — or, technically, the following day. Aloft Tampa Downtown, located at the top of the Marriott Bonvoy, offers a bird’s eye view that’s perfect for enjoying the area’s famously ideal weather. If a pint at a pub is more your style, don’t miss Maloney’s Local Irish Pub, which, of course, is the place to be on St. Patrick’s Day.